Laser surgery from the womb saved my twins Rachel was given the option to terminate her twins, but she had a feeling they were fighters ...

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RACHEL’S STORY WAS SOLD AS AN EXCLUSIVE TO ‘CHAT’ MAGAZINE AND ‘FRIDAY’, A MAGAZINE SUPPLEMENT IN DUBAI, BEFORE APPEARING IN THE NATIONAL PRESS. RACHEL HAS SINCE APPEARED IN ‘PICK ME UP’ MAGAZINE WITH A FOLLOW-UP STORY

As the sonographer stared at the monitor, biting her lip in thought, my heart started to race. I was anxious for her to speak, to tell me my baby was okay.

It was my mum, Helen Jones, 48, who punctured the silence.

“Is it twins?” she joked, giving me a nudge with her elbow. The lady turned and smiled. “Yes,” she said. “Identical.”

My mum screamed. I couldn’t tell if it was shock or excitement at first, but when she pulled me into her arms for a tight hug I knew she was happy.

I, on the other hand, felt like I was going to pass out. Dizzying thoughts were running through my mind. How was I going to cope? I already had two young children, Crystal, now six, and Jay-Jay, three, to look after.

It was February 2013 and it had been a rollercoaster week. I’d been to see my doctor after getting achey pains in my stomach. He said my blood levels were high and that I must be around 14 weeks pregnant.

“I’m sorry?” I spat out, confused. I knew I was pregnant, but the date couldn’t have been right. I was sure I was only seven weeks.

The hospital scan, at Singleton Hospital in Swansea, Wales, was to check how far gone I really was and make sure everything was okay. I’d been dreading it but now, with the news sinking in and knowing my babies were okay, I couldn’t have been happier.

A few weeks later, at the 12 week scan, I was amazed at how much they’d grown. The two tiny shapes I saw before now had visible arms and legs. And, what’s more, they were girls.

Me and my fiancé, Stephen Ellis, 29, were told it was a high-risk pregnancy and that I’d need a scan every two weeks. I wasn’t worried at the time, but in the May we found out just how risky it was.

We were at a routine scan when, once again, the sonographer was looking intently at the screen. She called a consultant in who joined her in studying the monitor. I glanced over at Stephen and saw the concern etched on his face.

“One of the babies is vacuumed in its sac. It can’t move,” the consultant finally said. “If you’d like to come to my office I’ll explain.”

Gripping Stephen’s hand, we followed the consultant. That’s when he told us the babies had twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, or TTTS.

TTTS is a life-threatening condition found in twins sharing the same placenta. One was receiving all of the blood supply and becoming overloaded with fluid. As a consequence, it was at risk of a heart attack.

The other twin, the one that was vacuumed, was being squashed against the wall of the uterus and receiving little blood. It meant she wouldn’t grow as well and faced losing her tiny life.

I tried to hold back the tears, but one look at Stephen, my partner of nearly ten years, and they came flooding out. I was so confused and scared.

The consultant could see I was too upset to take anything else in. Instead, he told us about a specialist hospital that would be in touch.

We were on the way home when I received a phone call from Bristol’s Fetal Medicine Unit and arranged to visit them later in the week. They said to prepare myself for the possibility of surgery the same day.

Back home in Port Talbot, Wales, wanting to find out more information, I Googled the condition. My stomach flipped at what I read. Websites were littered with horror stories of women who had lost their babies or who were coming to terms with severely handicapped children.

A few days later, Stephen and Mum joined me for the appointment in Bristol, England. It was here that a surgeon sat us down and gave us the options.

“The first is termination …” he started.

I didn’t have to hear any more on the subject. I knew that wasn’t an option for me. I couldn’t destroy two lives if there was any chance of survival.

“The other option is whether to have surgery or not,” he continued. “Without surgery, the twins have a five per cent chance of survival. With surgery, it’s 45 per cent.”

He went on to say that there was a risk of complications even if they did survive. One or both of the babies could have mental or physical problems, such as Down’s syndrome.

The surgeon left us alone to discuss what was said, but I’d already made my mind up. I just wanted them out alive.

“I want the surgery,” I told Mum and Stephen. “I’ve got a feeling they can make it.”

They both agreed. We were then told what was going to happen. The surgeon wanted to perform pioneering surgery which involved using a laser beam to seal off shared blood vessels. He hoped it would equalise the blood supply. He’d then drain the excess fluid from the larger twin’s sac.

With a deep, shaking breath I agreed. And just minutes later I was being wheeled in to theatre. My mum, sobbing, had to wait outside, but Stephen came with me.

Doctors inserted a camera and fibre optic laser down a tiny endoscope into my womb. And, because it was done by local anaesthetic, I could see the whole thing on a monitor.

“Look! Look at that!” Stephen said suddenly.

The camera was moving up behind one of the twins and I could see her tiny clenched hand on the screen. “That’s incredible!” I gasped.

The laser surgery seemed to go well and before I knew it, after around an hour, it was all over.

“Is that it? Is everything alright?” I asked, still lying on the operating table. The surgeon nodded. “Yes, it went very well.”

They had managed to drain a litre and a half of fluid out of the larger twin’s sac and seal off what they needed.

The anxiety and worry I had melted away and I left hospital relieved. The following day, however, during a family get-together, I wasn’t feeling right. I had a nagging feeling, but brushed it off. I’d just had surgery, after all.

“Come on,” Stephen said. “I’ll take you home to rest.”

At home, I lay down. I didn’t want Stephen to miss out on the party, though, so convinced him to head back to join our kids. Alone, I fell asleep. It must have been an hour later when I woke up to the most shocking surprise – my waters had broke.

At that moment I was convinced it was the end, that I’d lost the twins. I was still only 19 weeks pregnant. How could they survive being born at such a young age?

Panicking, I called Stephen and he rushed back home to take me to hospital. “Everything will be fine,” he kept reassuring me.

At hospital, midwives did a test to confirm what had happened. The sacs had ruptured. It was confirmation to me that something horrible was going to happen. Another scan revealed that the babies were still moving. But a consultant told us to expect the worst.

My head accepted what he was saying. It’s what I feared myself. But as he was talking I could feel the twins kicking. “Maybe they could get through it”, I thought.

The next day, after another sleepless night, I had a more detailed scan. It revealed that the twins’ sacs had re-sealed and filled back up. I couldn’t believe it.

“Is that even possible?” I asked the consultant. “I thought I was going into labour.”

The consultant was amazed, too. It does happen, but it’s incredibly rare.

“So what happens now?” I asked, worried there was going to be some other complication.

“It’s still dangerous for the next couple of weeks. There could be another rupture, and the outcome may not be the same. After that, though, it’s back to normal pregnancy.”

His words left me constantly worrying. Back at home, a beacon of hope came in the form of a TTTS Facebook support group. Dozens of posts were from mums who’d gone through a worrying pregnancy to give birth to healthy babies. “Why couldn’t I have stumbled across this before, rather than the horror stories?” I thought.

At the next scan, I was told I’d made it safely past the two weeks – the babies were growing at a good rate. It was another boost and I relaxed slightly, knowing that every week that passed increased the girls’ chances of surviving.

It wasn’t until 26 weeks that I felt comfortable. I knew that if anything happened now they could be delivered and make it.

After my scan at 34 weeks, I was called into the consultant’s office. I stepped inside having flashbacks of the horrible news that was delivered last time. “Please, don’t let there be something else,” I prayed.
“One of the twins is not making much progress,” I was told, causing my heart to sink. “I think they’re ready to come out.”

He explained it could be the safer option rather than waiting any longer so, of course, I agreed.

Four days later and Stephen was by my side in hospital once again for a planned caesarian section.

It was another nerve-wracking moment, but as soon as I heard a baby’s cry I knew everything was going to be okay. All of the heartache and worry was worth it.

It was 3pm on 24th September 2013 when the twins were born. Lilly was delivered first weighing a healthy 5lb. Darcy followed two minutes later weighing 5lb 2oz.

I only got a quick glance before they were taken away and hooked up to oxygen to help their little lungs along.

Stephen took Crystal and Jay-Jay to visit the twins and took lots of photos to show me. It wasn’t until midnight, after recovering from the C-section, that I saw them properly. They were perfect. My little miracles. And they looked exactly the same. It was only because they had their names on the incubators I could tell them apart.

Lilly and Darcy were in hospital for two weeks before they were allowed home – they had trouble feeding at first. Even then I was anxious something could happen. But with every day that passed, as they developed like any other baby, my fears slowly evaporated.

They still look exactly the same – Stephen can’t tell the difference! – but their personalities are starting to shine through. Lilly’s the cheeky one and has a cheeky little grin to match. Darcy just says ‘no’ to everything in her adorable Welsh accent.

They’re a dream, though. They even sleep for 13 hours a night! And they’ve got two loving siblings who dote on them. Crystal’s like another mother to the twins and helps out at every opportunity.

When I look at them now, about to turn one [24th September], I’m amazed I was even given the option of terminating them. They’re so happy and healthy. They’re meant to be.

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